Famed for Role in ‘The Millionaire’ Series : Radio-TV Actor Marvin Miller Dies

Times Staff Writer

Marvin Miller, whose half-century as an actor, announcer and narrator is best recalled for his television role as the man who gave away million-dollar checks, died Friday in Santa Monica Hospital.

The 71-year-old Miller suffered complications from a diabetic condition and went into a coma after a heart attack Sunday, his wife, Elizabeth, said.

Miller began in radio in St. Louis as a Washington University freshman and then went to Chicago to launch a network radio career that eventually took him to Hollywood and into films and television. He was active until several months ago.


Even after he officially retired in December, Elizabeth Miller said, he narrated a couple of industrial films. Last fall, he was heard with numerous other long-time performers on a special Halloween radio show.

Mysterious Billionaire

Although he acted in, announced for or narrated countless radio and television shows and appeared in several dozen films, Miller was best known as Michael Anthony, the “ever-faithful” executive secretary to mysterious billionaire John Beresford Tipton on “The Millionaire.”

Each episode of the television series, which made its CBS network debut in January, 1955, started with Miller’s character passing out a million-dollar check to startled recipients.

Asked in 1982 what that role had done for his career, Miller replied: “It killed me. I never did another important part in a movie or television series. I’d go in with an agent to a casting director and he’d say, ‘Hey, the audience would expect you to give away a million dollars.’ ”

Miller was born in St. Louis on July 18, 1913. He broke into radio there when he was 18, earning $5 a week doing a one-man show in which he performed all the parts.

Network Center

In 1939, just after he and St. Louis artist Elizabeth Dawson were married, they moved to Chicago--then a major network radio center. He had so much work--he was heard on an average of 45 shows a week--that Variety dubbed him a “one-man radio industry.”

He would announce one program, then immediately perform a dramatic role--or perhaps several--in another. On the soap opera, “Backstage Wife,” for instance, he was heard as Rodney Brooks, Fritz Sterner and Edward de Manfield. Among the shows he narrated was “Armchair Adventures.”

For nine years, he was the voice of “The Whistler,” keeping millions of Americans glued to their table Philcos with his resonant words, “I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. . . .”

In 1944, Miller moved to Hollywood, where he began by announcing for the Red Skelton radio show and was radio’s “Coronet Storyteller,” narrating and doing all the voices for that five-nights-a-week ABC show. That became “Behind the Story” and then “Marvin Miller, Story Teller.”

He did many shows for the Armed Forces Network during World War II and appeared in films beginning with “Johnny Angel” in 1945. Other movies included “Intrigue,” “Forbidden,” “Peking Express,” “Deadline at Dawn,” “Dead Reckoning” and “Hong Kong.”

When television came into its own, one of his early roles was that of a Chinese philosopher-detective in “Mysteries of Chinatown.”

Of all the work he did, his wife said Friday, he was proudest of having recorded the entire King James version of the Bible for Audio Books.

“He was meticulous about researching the pronunciations of names and places,” she said. “It took him five or six years to do it.” she said.

He narrated many industrial and educational films, as well as cartoons for UPA, Hanna-Barbera and Disney. In recent years, he had been the taped voice on many a museum’s guided tour.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Melissa, a Century City attorney, and a son, Anthony, of Minneapolis, a toy company executive.

His wife said no funeral service is scheduled, but a memorial service will be announced at a later time.

Burial will be at Westwood Village Memorial Park.